Procol Harum

the Pale

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Hollywood Bowl, 21 September 1973

The Concert Programme : Procol's Progress To 'Grand Hotel'

People who know nothing else about Procol Harum can always volunteer the fact that A Whiter Shade of Pale was the song that dominated the storied [should this be 'stoned'?] Summer of ’67, when flowers were in power, worn in San Francisco’s hair. Ironically, 'AWSoP' had not a thing to do with love or peace or even whatsyoursign.

It had another kind of power. It sounded unmistakably important. It was different, rather formal, unprecedented. The organ curled majestically over rise upon rise; the words were haunting.

For the multitude of flower children in the rock garden, it was a compelling display of strength and mass combined with mystery. The music had an integrity capable of impressing the over-30s (who, that year, were unfortunately not to be trusted), yet the spectral, elusive lyrics remained the private delight of the reigning young. With or without chemical assistance whatever they imagined was as good as what it meant. (The title, in fact, was a malapropism Keith Reid overheard and mentally banked for just such a use.)

What transpired from there was six albums, prodigious US tours, personnel changes and management blues, reputations for this and that (this being an obsession with things nautical; that being an obsession with death), a disproportionate popularity in America compared to Mother England, a stunningly homogenous performance with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, fulfilling the prophecy that of all pop groups attempting this sort of thing, only they could really pull it off.

And they had another hit single, Conquistador, not to mention AWSoP, which rose from the grave to hit again.

What has kept Procol Harum on an even keel despite the intermittent heavy weather is the redoubtable team of Keith Reid and Gary Brooker. When you think that they first met through an ad in the newspaper [sic], it’s enough to make you believe in marriage through the personal column.

With Gary holding things together onstage and Keith off, they evolved a distinctive sound and sense that was to achieve a life of its own, personnel changes notwithstanding.

Keith and Gary had successfully applied the performing-singer-composer-pianist/non-performing lyricist formula well before the spectacular Elton John/Bernie Taupin union.

But there is a telling difference here. Whereas a vivid image was nurtured and brilliantly bloomed with E. John, no comparable image – for better or worse or neither – was forthcoming in the case of Gary Brooker. (Although, to compensate, Keith Reid’s presence was always emphasized in a way that Bernie Taupin’s was not.) This contrast in focus is most readily explainable as the difference between a solo artist and a group, but there remains a net difference, separating a presentation where the star is the star from one where the material is the star.

The object of this exercise is not to judge these two acts against each other, which would be pointless and annoying, but simply to cause you to speculate on how Procol Harum got so far without any dazzling personality for the press and populace to grasp.

It was the songs. And how those songs come into being will cast doubt into the most faithful heart. On paper (like this here) it sounds way too crazy to work. But there stands the proof – 50-plus titles and a dandy career.

Most songwriting teams work together, developing an initial lyric phrase or musical riff that feels promising. Or the writer might have almost-finished words, or the other guy an almost-finished tune.

Not these Procols. Keith hands Gary lyrics which are completely finished, every time. So now you think Gary must have to sit there and make up tunes for them. But wrong! Gary’s been sitting there making up his own tunes by himself. When he gets the words, he just sorts through his stock for a tune that will fit.

Now this would be weird enough if they were writing in the more predictable country or blues formats, but as you know, they aren’t. They do all kinds of things. This technique does not scare them because it has worked every time.

It may sound not unlike those old-time portrait painters who went around with busts already painted on the canvas, just waiting for the head to be filled in, only more complicated because of the way the words and music must interact.

The songs the two like best are ones where this grafting has occurred easily, and they cite A Rum Tale from the current Grand Hotel album. When there is doubt (as when Keith likes what Gary’s doing, but Gary’s not entirely sold), they seek a third opinion.

Having taken pains with the making of the material, they take more to see that it is played right. One thing they do not joke about is the level of musicianship they insist on from the band.

They are fortunate to have BJ Wilson, drummer (who has teamed up with Gary for ten years dating back to their pre-Procol days in the Paramounts); multi-talented Chris Copping on organ, six string bass, rhythm guitar, synthesizer and harpsichord; Alan Cartwright on bass and Mick Grabham, lead guitar.

These players are not virtuosos in the egocentric sense; rather they’re "masters of their instruments, sympathetic to Procol’s style." That quote is from Brooker/Reid.

Copyright 1973 by Warner Bros. Records Inc.


London Records

DFS18008 Deram

(Whiter Shade of Pale)

1964 [sic]

A& M

SP 4151

Shine on Brightly


A& M

SP 4179

A Salty Dog


A& M

SP 4261



A& M

SP 4294

Broken Barricades


A& M

SP 4335

Live in Concert w/ Edmonton Symphony Orch.


A& M

SP 4373

A Whiter Shade of Pale



CHR 1037

Grand Hotel5/73


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